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Harnessing social media

TORONTO, Ont. – Between Twitter tweets, Facebook friending, profiling on LinkedIn, or posting the latest viral video on YouTube, social media’s buzzwords will be more or less familiar to all. But can social media bring value to your...

TORONTO, Ont. – Between Twitter tweets, Facebook friending, profiling on LinkedIn, or posting the latest viral video on YouTube, social media’s buzzwords will be more or less familiar to all. But can social media bring value to your business?
The true value of social media is in the interaction that the various sites enable, and in harnessing the relationships between companies and customers.

“It’s word of mouth on steroids,” said Kim McWatt, director and social media expert at Jan Kelley Marketing, and a speaker at the Ontario Trucking Association’s 2011 convention.

There are five very practical reasons that people are looking to get in touch through social media, said McWatt: customer expectations, marketing insight, public relations, search engine optimization, and lead generation.

“The people you are interacting with through social media are some of the best leads you can get. Fifty-nine per cent of B2B buyers today are engaged online, and 75% of B2B purchasers use social media at least once a week,” she said.

Increasingly, as more customers go online to do their research, businesses are seeing a phenomenon called “disintermediation,” with the ‘middleman’ cut right out of the picture.

“The challenge will be how to talk to the online customer efficiently,” said McWatt, especially as the next generation of potential customers, Generation Y, which numbers 80 million, is very tech-savvy, skeptical, impatient, and carries high expectations.

With over 200 million 140-character tweets going out every day, Twitter makes for a real-time information network that can help you build relationships, respond to comments and queries, “retweet” others’ information, and review your followers to see if any key influencers are in the mix.

“You can leverage the real-time nature of twitter by getting feedback, asking questions, floating ideas, and creating polls,” said McWatt.

Facebook, with more than 800 million active users, is a social utility that helps people communicate more efficiently with friends, family and co-workers.

“From a company standpoint, Facebook pages allow you to leverage your connections and engage people in a customer service fashion – your networks expand as more people like your page. Have a ‘like’ button on your company Web site linking to Facebook, and run Facebook ads. Because of the targeted message, you can reach a lot of people,” said McWatt.

Over three billion videos are viewed on YouTube each day. Setting up a ‘brand channel’ with information about how your products and services work could get your name recognized.

“You are trying to provide real value to your followers, with an 80% focus on knowledge transfer and engagement, and 20% focus on shameless self-promotion. If you go the opposite way, though, it’s a sure-fire way to get people disengaged,” said McWatt.

Social media also makes a great recruiting and retention tool. Online professional network LinkedIn posted, as of November 2011, 135 million professionals’ profiles. Over 50% of LinkedIn members are now international, and 75% of Fortune 100 companies use LinkedIn to hire, said Peter Gima, SMB national manager, LinkedIn Canada.

“You have a chance to put your own personal profile on there, to customize your Web site listings, join groups to network with others, and include apps that highlight your expertise,” said McWatt.

Company pages on LinkedIn should include a company overview, list of services, products, and should incorporate any blog and Twitter feeds.

Your professional identity is going online, and information is accessible everywhere. How people are using and consuming information is changing as well, said Gima.

“The difference between an audience and a community is in which direction the chairs are pointing.LinkedIn’s mission is to connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful. The organizational branding aspect is what do you want people to know about your company? Your job is to make sure you are a strong participant in what’s going on. The world owns your brand to a large extent, but just make sure you’re a participant in it,” said Gima.

With, you can find out, within your industry, which companies are doing well, who is not, and who is hiring, noted Gima.

“We recommend that as many of your employees get on LinkedIn as possible. Leverage them as assets – as an extension of your brand. Follow yourself and follow your competitors on their company page. You will also find out who is following your organization. You are going to get an awful lot of people commenting on your brand – be active in that,” said Gima.

Mike McCarron, managing partner, MSM Transportation, got engaged in social media this year in reaction to feeling “out of sync with people who worked for me,” he said.

“When business was awful, and when I saw the stats and did some reading, I found out that our customers were making big decisions using social media. We were using an old-fashioned relationship model. It scared me a little bit; the power equation has shifted. I don’t control the perception anymore – that’s controlled by the engagement that I have out there,” he said.

The result of this move to “people power”?

“The world has moved toward total transparency. I think it’s moving the right way. You have to be very aware of that; it’s staggering what that can do. You can’t hoard and release information when and where you want it. There is so much information out there and you have to be very careful about the message. Many times people come in for an interview knowing more about me than I do myself,” added McCarron.

Filtering the message?
When it comes to controlling any potentially negative feedback from your employees or clients through social media, “My recommendation is to bring in an educator on what you would like them to do and not do,” said Gima.

“I’d prefer pushing people towards us than trying to control something you can’t control,” said McCarron.

“If you have a plan in place to deal with negative comments, such as engaging (those who’ve made the comments), giving them the information they need, then all of a sudden you have a convert. The more you’re transparent, the more that you’re talking openly, the more likely you’ll have someone saying ‘I want to deal with this company’,” said McWatt.

Make sure you are aware of the time and resources involved in any social media activity, said McWatt.

For example, when you’re managing a Twitter feed, you’re trying to provide real-time information, you’re doing research.

“You have to do what makes sense for your organization with the resources that you have, the right content, and the right messaging. You do also have to make sure that you’re monitoring throughout the day. If you do nothing else, listen to what’s going on out in the market. You can set up something as simple as a Google alert, with a daily search focusing on a particular keyword, or Google reader, gathering the tone of the industry from various feeds,” she said.

Do set some guidelines. Do not argue or debate, or discuss legal or financial issues. Express regret authentically, and offer an apology if warranted by fact.

Don’t be mediocre across all the social media channels. If you are posting comments and no one is talking back to you, think about the content, said McWatt.

“When they do engage, make sure you talk to them. More content is being generated by the user than by the corporations. People make the brand. If you’re not talking with your customers and guiding people you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities,” she said.

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